Courtney Hoffman is a renowned costume designer — she's worked on films including The Hateful Eight, Baby Driver, and Captain Fantastic, just to name a few. But with her Shatterbox Anthology project, The Good Time Girls, Hoffman is stepping directly behind the camera and making her directorial debut.
"Because I was a costume designer, I've always been a storyteller," Hoffman explains to Refinery29. "But the language that I chose to tell those stories was clothing. And now, I've stepped into just being the storyteller."
The Good Time Girls is Hoffman's take on the classic Western. But unlike the films of Sergio Leone and John Ford, women are at the heart of the film.
The movie features major stars, as well as up-and-coming actors. At the heart of The Good Time Girls are Laura Dern, fresh off the filming of HBO's Big Little Lies, and up-and-comer Annalise Basso. Comedy fans will also recognize Search Party's Alia Shawkat and The Mindy Project's Garret Dillahunt. Offscreen, many of the crew members were women who had worked with Hoffman on previous projects.
The Good Time Girls is currently a short film, but Hoffman already has a full-length script for a feature film, which she plans to shoot this fall. Check out our Q&A with the director below — Hoffman explains why she didn't think she could be a female director, what she learned from the project, and The Good Time Girls' surprising connection to The Hateful Eight. Watch The Good Time Girls below (FYI it's NSFW), and read on to learn more about the project.
Refinery29: You directed and wrote the film with the AFI Conservatory Directing Workshop for Women. Can you explain a little about what the workshop is and how you got involved with it?
"The day that I said out loud for the first time that I wanted to be a director, one of my friends reminded me that we know people that have done the AFI Women's Directing Workshop, which is a tuition-free program that's harder to get into than Harvard... in order to get into the program, you needed to apply with a script and with a short film that you directed. The day that I said that out loud was the day that the applications opened, and so it was a very sort of serendipitous find.
"Having such a successful career in costume design — the last three films I designed were Baby Driver, Captain Fantastic, and The Hateful Eight — it was very hard to just say 'no' to all of that and just say, 'No, I have another dream.' And I felt like I needed a safe place, as a working professional, to be in an environment where I could explore this other idea I had. And, ultimately, [the workshop] was the place that gave me the confidence to say, 'I am 100% born to be a director.' And so I applied to the program with the scripts, the first draft of The Good Time Girls, and with a short that I directed, to get in.
"I got into the program, which I found out while I was in Atlanta doing Baby Driver. I was able to leave the movie a few weeks early and begin the program, which consists of five weeks of intensive classes... it's a place to create a community of female filmmakers who could support each other along the journey."
So it's fair to say you didn't develop an interest in directing until after years of doing costume design.
"Yes. I've been a costume designer and worked in costumes for the last 10 plus years... I've worked with an incredible handful of prolific filmmakers, including Terrence Malick, Steven Soderbergh, Tim Burton, Quentin Tarantino, and Edgar Wright. So it was through being on over 40 films and watching all these filmmakers, none of which were women. I worked with two female filmmakers in the totality of 40 films I worked on, and both of them were under a million dollar films.
"So I think for a very long time, it almost didn't click that it was a job I could do, in a way. I just didn't really think about it. And then once I did The Hateful Eight, and I really started accomplishing all of my dreams as a costume designer, I started to realize there was a ceiling for me there... I've always had very strong leadership skills. I was always getting in trouble on film sets as a costume designer for worrying about things other than costumes. And I was always told, 'Stay in your own lane!'
"And I was always like, 'I don't want to stay in my lane, because I don't care if the costumes look good if the set doesn't look good, if the hair and makeup doesn't look good.' I realized that there was sort of a pattern, that I always was really consumed by the overall picture of a film. Both that and my really close relationships with actors made me realize that I absolutely had all the makings of a director. And when I did 'come out' as a director, no one who had ever worked with me was surprised. Everyone was incredibly encouraging, and a lot of them actually ended up working on my film."
Why did you decide to create a Western film? Was that the Tarantino influence of working on movies like The Hateful Eight?
"Yeah, in a lot of ways, this was my feminist response to the time period. Obviously, spending several years of my life on Quentin's sets was going to be influential. In some ways, he's like a mentor to me. But more importantly, it was my feminist response to that work.
"I really believe Westerns are America's Greek mythology. And if we look back to the origin stories of the gender roles in which we were able to be assigned, it's very limited. And if we rewrite those roles in the time period in which they were created, we can rewrite white male cowboy myths. Because, ultimately, it was from 100 years of watching Westerns that the white man became our icon as a hero. And if we go back to the origin of that, and we rewrite it, could we, as a society, believe that there is a new hero in town?
"If you think of John Wayne, and you think of 50 years of John Wayne as America's star, and then it changes to Clint Eastwood. It's just one white man after another that we’re told is our hero. By rewriting that and not just saying, 'I'm here to make a movie about women,' but 'I'm here to make a movie about women in a genre about men, and I'm here to do it within an almost entirely female crew,' that was what I wanted to do. For the rest of my career, I want to spend my time working my way through different genres, putting my female stamp on them."
I love how The Good Time Girls subverts those Western classic tropes. Going off what you're saying, revenge is a classic Western plot, but it's so much more striking when women are the ones doing the shooting.
"It's funny — like, three minutes ago, I hung up the phone with my writing partner, and we're writing the feature right now. We're on the third or fourth draft of the feature. And one of the quotes I keep going back to is this William Shakespeare quote: 'The arms are fair when the intent of bearing them is just.' And I really keep holding onto that quote and that idea.
"It's not about guns for guns' sake, and it's not about looking cool. It's like, what does it mean to go head to head in the language that men respond to? And that is the iconography of the language that we respond to. What is it like to have a showdown between a woman and a man when the roles are reversed?"
How did you assemble the film's cast? Did you already have relationships with these actors from other projects?
"Garret was recommended to me through Walton Goggins, who was in The Hateful Eight... I had written the film and was applying to the program while The Hateful Eight was premiering. And I wrote the film for Laura, I wrote it with her in mind the entire time. But I didn't know her. But I knew Bruce Dern, because Bruce Dern was in The Hateful Eight. I basically kept Bruce Dern from freezing to death in The Hateful Eight, as a costume designer.
"I was seated at [The Hateful Eight's] premiere next to Laura Dern. Just by chance, after applying to this program, having written this movie for her. And so I approached her, and she knew exactly who I was. And she said to me, 'My dad says that you took such amazing care of him. And because of that, I don't even think of you like a friend. I think of you like my sister.' And I was like, 'Okay, sister! Well, I wrote a movie for you, and if I get into this program, will you consider reading it?' And she not only did, but now we're developing the feature together.
"After my first shoot day, I got an email from CAA [Creative Artists' Agency, which includes Dern's agent] saying that she wanted to work with me for the rest of her career and the rest of mine. I like to joke, I'll just share my muse with David Lynch, that'll be okay. Because she believed in me, and she always made me feel like I was enough.
"So then everyone else, like Annalise, who's the redhead in the movie, I did Captain Fantastic with. And because I had dressed her and been together with her for the entire film, there was just an inherent trust. And she gives a very vulnerable performance. I'm sure that I could not have gotten that, except for the fact that, people always say that the number one quality a director should have is knowing how to make an actor feel comfortable. And I always joke that my job is to get them naked within the first five minutes of meeting them. It's pretty important, as a designer, that you know how to make people feel comfortable.
"Alia Shawkat, I'm just a humongous fan of hers and just had the great fortune of her saying 'yes' when I asked her blindly to be in it. And then Garret, same thing. I didn't know him, but he responded to the part and the script, and he came on, which is just so tremendous because he is so good in it. He's such a versatile actor."
That's such a sweet story about Laura Dern! I noticed Bruce and Walton's names in the "special thanks" section of The Good Time Girls' credits, and I wanted to ask you about their connection to the project.
"I have an incredible community of both actors and below-the-line filmmakers who believe in me, and producers who believe in me and help make this possible. And there's just a point where, when so many people make you feel like you can do it, you know you can do it. And now I just know I'm a filmmaker.'
"My first shoot day, Laura described me as 'the calmest director she's ever seen on their first shoot day, let alone their first shoot day ever.' Because it was my first shoot day on the set ever as a director. But I think it was because I felt a calm come over me, because I felt like I was finally doing what I was born to do. And there was something within that that just made me feel so settled on my own two feet. It was a really powerful experience for everyone who was there, and that was a very humbling experience for me."
How involved were you with the costume design for The Good Time Girls? Was it hard to take a step back to focus on directing and the bigger picture?
"It wasn't hard, because my assistant, Anastasia Magoutas, who's been with me on every film I've ever designed, did the costumes... Because I framed her for seven years, and we've worked together for seven years, there was a real second-hand nature to the collaboration.
"I also used a lot of the costumes that you never saw from The Hateful Eight. Fun fact: Laura Dern's actually wearing Channing Tatum's pants from The Hateful Eight. And there's all these other costumes that we just pulled and repurposed... We know the genre so well, and we've worked in it for so long that it was pretty easy, ultimately. We just knew the clothes we wanted to use.
"And I was in every fitting. I was very involved. I wasn't hands-off. But I’m not really hands-off about anything! If you look at the pictures on set, I'm practicing the blood for the bathtub, and I'm practicing the movement for the guns and the fighting. I like to be involved, and so it was a great opportunity to be involved."
Do you think you'll do more costume design in the future, or are you going to be focusing on directing?
"No. I'm done. I want Baby Driver to be the last movie I designed."
Speaking of Baby Driver, the Refinery29 entertainment team is really into Ansel Elgort right now. Do you have any fun stories from the set that you could share?
"Basically, just that you never would imagine that any costume is as hard as it is to come up with. Baby's costume being so simple, in almost a Han Solo way, was what I was aspiring towards. We probably went through 60 jackets to ultimately have to cut up a bunch of different jackets to create that one. It was probably one of the hardest costumes I've ever designed, just because it was a very hard combination of getting the studio and Edgar's vision and everything on the same page.
"One of the most fun characters to design was Jamie Foxx's character. I was very into [the idea that] that's a real guy who exists in Atlanta. And so it was very important to me to not try and mimic Black fashion and Black culture, but to actually understand it and nail it. I spent a lot of time, there's a store called Pure Atlanta that's like, the number one place for fashion in Atlanta for Black men. And I spent a lot of time literally stopping guys in the mall and making them take me to the store where they buy their jeans. So it was a very immersive and hilarious experience. His costumes were courtesy of a lot of men who made sure that I did it right. That king card sweatshirt came from Pure Atlanta. I just saw it and knew that that character thinks he's the king, and that felt like the perfect way to meet him."
The last scene of The Good Time Girls was so powerful — I love when you see her wiping away the tear. How did you decide that would be how the film ended?
"It was actually a happy movie accident! We had Laura say [the last line] a few different times. And in between one of those times, she actually had to wipe her eye, because she was just getting more and more into it. And ultimately, that last moment of vulnerability made me realize this story isn't about a woman pretending to try and be a man. It's about, how would a woman deal with this kind of emotional experience?'
"Instead of it just being about bravery or strength, part of that has to do with vulnerability. And that's why, I think, women make better heroes, because we have the dynamic ability to, in the same breath, be strong and powerful and emotionally in touch and vulnerable. And I think that in that duality comes the complexity of a female hero."
This interview has been edited for clarity and condensed.
Women accounted for only 13% of the directors on the 700 top grossing films in 2014 — and only 7% of the top 250 films. Refinery29 wants to change this by giving 12 female directors a chance to claim their power. Our message to Hollywood? You can't win without women. Watch new films every month on Refinery29.com/Shatterbox and Comcast Watchable.
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